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Suns' owner says site not a deal-breaker

March 16, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Hagerstown Suns owner said Wednesday he will try to sell the team if the city, county and state government don't approve a stadium funding plan by April 7, but a site doesn't have to be chosen by that date.

Winston Blenckstone, the Suns owner, issued the ultimatum Tuesday during a press conference. He refused Wednesday to speculate on whether the government can meet his deadline for a funding plan, which would include the governor approving state funds for the project.

The April 7 deadline is four days before the end of the Maryland General Assembly session.

Hagerstown Councilman Al Boyer and Washington County Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said they think the city and county can determine by that date how much funding the city and county can provide by that date.

Boyer, a leading supporter of stadium funding, said he didn't think a site could be chosen by that time.

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A site decision is important but not imperative, Blenckstone said Wednesday.

The Hagerstown City Council has pledged to subsidize the proposed $12 million to $15 million Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex at the same rate it subsidizes the existing stadium, estimated at about $120,000 a year.

If the city and county each contribute $120,000, they might be able to fund $3 million in debt, Boyer said. The Washington County Commissioners have said they will limit their contribution to match the city's.

Earlier this month, Boyer said the city needed to find about $100,000 a year in additional funding for a new baseball stadium.

He said Wednesday the city won't be able to find that amount in next year's budget and it appears that the most the city and county can contribute is $240,000 a year.

Asked if that is enough money, he said, "That is a question I can't answer."

Dick Phoebus, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce stadium task force, said it would be enough because more money could come from the private sector to pay for the project.

Although he doesn't expect a site to be chosen in the next three weeks, Phoebus said he thinks the city, county and state can determine the amount of funding available for the first year.

"We are as close as we have ever been to getting this done," he said.

The task force will investigate whether grants and other donations are available, he said.

A decision about a site won't be made until after funding is assured, he said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he believes the city can meet Blenckstone's funding deadline, but hopes Blenckstone will extend the deadline if it doesn't.

The Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill to raise the county hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 6 percent, and the County Commissioners could use some of the proceeds for a stadium complex.

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